The chief reason for the new optimism at Bloomington is a fine physical specimen named George McGinnis, who is 6'7", 235 pounds, quick and agile. McGinnis is a sophomore from Indianapolis who did not play freshman ball because he had to beef up his grades and get out of the conference's "nonpredictor" category. But he did score 53 points and take 30 rebounds in an Indiana-Kentucky high school all-star game. And he did play for the U.S. college all-stars in Europe last year at the World Games, where he led the team in scoring and rebounding. And he does have every other coach in the league scared stiff. They will get scareder when they see McGinnis fast break, dribble behind his back and put up his soft jump shot.
One of Indiana's major disappointments last season was 6'8" Joby Wright from Savannah. He came into school with a ton of press clippings but, as a sophomore, almost an equal amount of lard. After playing on the U.S. experimental Olympic team last summer, he reported to practice in the fall with more confidence and less weight. As if McGinnis and Wright were not enough board strength, Watson also has 6'7" Steve Downing, McGinnis' teammate in high school and another nonpredictor-turned-predictor. He cannot shoot that well, but he is a good passer and a tremendous jumper who has the good timing needed to block shots.
There is more. Jim (Bubbles) Harris led the team in scoring last season (18.1 a game); Rick Ford was the best free-throw shooter in the Big Ten; sophomore Ed Daniels was on a Georgia state championship high school team with Wright; and Cornelius (Bootsie) White—still another sophomore—averaged 20 points a game with the freshmen. If Indiana plays Bubbles and Bootsie at the same time, it will deserve victories just for gall.
Next door to the Hurryin' Hoosiers' adequate field house there is a handsome new basketball arena under construction. It will open next season with 17,500 permanent theater seats, rollaway bleachers at either end and a floor named for the late Coach McCracken. The building's official name will be Assembly Hall, but Lou Watson thinks that one of these days people will call it The House McGinnis Built.
The country around Lawrence oozes basketball tradition. The man who invented the sport, Dr. James Naismith, was the first coach at the University of Kansas, and there is a dorm and a street named for him. He was succeeded by the famous and somewhat eccentric Phog Allen, who insisted that his players warm their feet before going onto the court. KU is the school where Wilt Chamberlain was a disc jockey as well as a center, and where Jo Jo White, Bill Bridges, B.H. Born, Clyde Lovellette and so many other notable players polished their skills. Last season, after four straight 20-victory years, Kansas slipped to 17-9. Coach Ted Owens places his left hand on one of Wilt's old sneakers, raises his right hand and swears it will not happen again.
As usual, Owens and his staff have a large group of good athletes, the most notable being 6'9" Dave Robisch, who also pitches for the KU basketball team. Robisch has been first-team All-Big Eight two straight years and was picked over Colorado's Cliff Meely and Oklahoma's Garfield Heard last season as the conference MVP. He averaged 26.5 points and 12.1 rebounds a game, at center, but Owens will move him to forward for his senior year and play 6'10" Roger Brown in the pivot. Brown cannot shoot as well, but he rebounds better. Continuing the musical chairs, Pierre Russell shifts from forward to guard. "He is as fine an athlete as we've had at Kansas," says Owens. Russell worked all summer on his outside shooting. A good jumper, he will sometimes crash in to help with the offensive rebounding.
These three seniors were all heavily recruited high school stars, but one of their teammates, junior Isaac (Bud) Stall-worth, came to KU because of his trumpet. The son of a high school principal in Hartselle, Ala., Stallworth played basketball and also in the marching band. One day he was at a band conference on the Kansas campus and took some time off to play in a pickup game in the gym. One of the other participants was All-America Jo Jo White, who rushed out to report to Owens that there was an Alabaman over at the gym who could play the game. Owens decided to take a look, and Stallworth ended up going to Kansas on an athletic grant-in-aid. He scored 27 points in his first varsity game.
Kansas also has 6'9" sophomore Randy Canfield, an aggressive pre-med major; Guard Bob Kivisto, a high school All-America from Illinois (a favorite Jayhawk recruiting lode) and 6'8" Greg Douglas, who started at times for the 1968-69 team that went to the NIT finals. He was ineligible last year but now is back in academic grace.
Only Captain Chester Lawrence was lost, so Owens will be fielding experienced hands for the first time in three seasons. There are no Jo Jos or Wilts around, but the Robisches, Browns and Russells should be good enough for a Big Eight championship.